Call for inquiry into Indigenous birthing issues

A parliamentary committee has urged the Federal Government to establish an inquiry into the difficulties faced by pregnant Indigenous women who live in remote areas.

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs Committee made the call after holding a roundtable discussion on Indigenous birthing issues. 

Rachel Sargeant of the Apunipima Cape York Health Council told the committee that women in her community run the risk of being reported to authorities if they do not travel at Cairns in the 36th week of their pregnancy.  

“If they do not comply with this recommended schedule and policy of management of their antenatal care and leave their community, friends and family and live down in Cairns, they are threatened with the Department of Child Safety,” she said.

The lack of appropriate accommodation for pregnant women while they are waiting to have their baby was also raised as an issue.

Millie Hills of the Kimberley Aboriginal Medical Services Council said when her 22-year-old daughter had to go to Kununurra to have her baby she was forced to stay in a hostel that catered for young, single, male apprenticeships. 

“She was totally terrified,” she said. 

The committee was also told that for many women, having to give birth away from home was culturally inappropriate. 

“A lot of people just do not realise just how important that connection to land is,” midwife Karen Atkinson said.  

Committee chair Janelle Saffin said she hoped the roundtable enabled the next parliament to respond appropriately, with the current parliament soon to end due to the upcoming federal election. 

“The committee has written to the Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs to request a reference for an inquiry into Indigenous birthing be sent to the House Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs Committee of the 44th Parliament,” she said.

“We recognise we cannot bind the 44th Parliament but the case is so compelling we must place the committee's request on the record for consideration.”

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More information

Roundtable transcript